Cultural Wars and National Identity – The Saga of the Yoruba and the Bini-Edo

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MID-WEEK ESSAY:
Cultural Wars and National Identity – The Saga of the Yoruba and the Bini-Edo

By

Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
Alukome@aol.com
Burtonsville, MD, USA

May 19, 2004

 

INTRODUCTION

Recent discussions about the relationships – or non-relationship – of the Yoruba
and the Bini-Edo have been quite interesting, but in some instances pretty
disconcerting.

On April 29, 2004 at the Lagos launching of his
forty-year-in-the-making autobiography, “I remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant”,
the Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Solomon Igbinoghodua Aisiokuoba
Eradiauwa II, threw a stink-bomb onto the Yoruba cultural space by claiming on
Page 205 that the Yoruba progenitor Oduduwa was really the run-away prince
Ekaladerhan from Igodo (Benin), then being ruled by his father Ogiso Owodo who
ascended the throne about 1068.  About Ekaladerhan, reportedly born in  1070 and
exiled in 1084, the story was that about 70 years later, still without a royal
male heir to rule after the death of Owodo, a pleading Bini-land sent off to now
Ooni of Ife Oduduwa to be their king.  Pleading old age, he instead sent his
(oldest or youngest?) son Oranmiyan (alternatively called Oranyan, which
according to the Bini, was corrupted from the Bini name “Aigbovo Omonoyan.”) 
Unable later on  to assert his royal authority despite the invitation, Oranmiyan
reportedly left Bini-land in 1163AD after two years and returned to Ife in
anger, but not before re-naming Igodo(migodo)  “Ile-Ibinu” (the “land of anger”
in the Yoruba language, later corrupted to “Ibinu” or Bini/Benin) and sir-ing a
son named Eweka, who, being born by a Bini princess on Bini soil,  became 
acceptable and was accepted as the first Oba of Benin Eweka I around 1180.  [Oranmiyan
after his return to Ife was by tradition reported to move on to found Oyo - or
was it another person, his son Oranyan?]

The dynasty of 31 Ogisos (including 2 females) thereby gave way to the dynasty
of the Obas around 1180 AD (thirty-nine of them, including the current Oba),
with an interregnum of about 90 years ruled by two administrators (Evian and
Ogiamien).

This story of Ekaladerhan of Igodo turning up as Oduduwa of Ile-Ife has been
told before, no doubt, but coming anew in writing from the Omo N’Oba in the year
2004 has been a little too much to bear for the Yoruba.  Certainly, the Ooni of
Ife, Alaiyeluwa Oba Okunade Adele Sijuwade (Olubushe II) would hear none of it,
and promptly denounced it as modern-day hagiography as he was obliged to, nor
would the eminent Professor of History Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, who has now been
commissioned  by the Yoruba Council of Elders (Igbimo Agba Yoruba) to do a
thorough scholarly rebuttal.  

Mind you, the Oduduwa-Oranmiyan-Eweka connection between Ife and Benin from the
side of the Yoruba history is also well-agreed, but to the Yoruba, certainly
Oduduwa came from the Eastern Sky on a Chain from Heaven.  In short, the Yoruba
are uncertain where he came from,  but he certainly did not come with a Bini
twang, breathing heavily with would-be-executioners on his tail.  To make such a
claim smacked of both cultural hegemony and imperial arrogance on the part of
the Bini-Edo – not to talk of a hint of monarchical superiority – a notion now
assigned to a disingenuous attempt to permanently re-write history on the part
of the Omo N’Oba.  Whether the mythical Oduduwa-from-the-Sky (in Yoruba
creationism) got conflated with a human Oduduwa who later performed political
and mystical wonders at Ile-Ife - as speculated by E. Bolaji Idowu in his book “Olodumare:
God in Yoruba Belief”  - remains a mystery, which the Bini cannot, should not,
dare not thereby try to solve for the Yoruba.

The Bini (not the Edos actually) are free to make all kinds of cultural claims,
but are not free to annoy the neighboring people around them – not the Urhobos,
Itsekiri, Etsako, even the Ishan and Owan, or the Yoruba for that matter.   In
fact, as some of the discourse has since revealed, some of these neighbors, even
those termed “Edoid” in their linguistic affinities, have over the years
tactically been bailing themselves out of these more recent “neo-colonial” and
almost revanchist claims. 

THE INFLUENCE OF  EMPIRE AND  MIGRATION

The fact of the matter is that otherwise autochtonous but geographically-nearby
indigenous people have, over many centuries, received waves and waves of Bini
immigrants.  These immigrants were displaced either because of internal
oppression within Bini-land (whether as Igodo, or Ile-Ibinu, or Ibini or Ile or
Edo as it has been known at various times), or else assigned as resident
overseers after numerous external aggression campaigns during various great
empire periods of the Ogisos (ending with Owodo in about 1091) and of the Obas
(starting with Eweka I in  about 1180), with an interregnum of non-royal
administrators.   This statement is not a reflection on the Bini people but on
their monarchs; it is axiomatic that the history of people should not be
confused with that of their monarchs, nor should the villainy of the monarchs be
confused with that of their often-time victim-subjects.

These indigenous peoples have naturally been influenced by both Bini language
and culture, only later to be described as “Edoid” by foreign linguists seeking
patterns of language, much to the chagrin to those who know, but strangely
welcomed by some of them who are ignorant of their own hi-story,.  Sometimes
“high-story” has thereby turned into “low-story.”  To have what has been
classified an “Edoid” language does not make you “Edo” just as to have a
“Germanic” language does not make you German, or “Slavic” language make you – a
Slave!  :-)

The Etsako language and the Bini language are for example mutually
unintelligible, but they are both classified “Edoid” because fragments of Bini
language and culture can be found in Etsako-land (Afenmai)!  The very Bini
language description “Ivbiosakon” (“The people who file their teeth”) from which
“Etsako” is purportedly derived is either the complimentary appellation of a
commendably hygienic dental practice, or else the derogatory characterization of
a quaint and primitive engagement.

On the other hand, the Urhobo appear to trace their migrant relationship to the
Bini of the Ogiso period that is notoriously remembered in their folklore. In
fact, to them there is this one single proverbial “Ogiso” whose first wife was
the troublesome “Inarhe”, making all troublesome Urbobo women “Inarhes”
according to Urhobo men.  Whether this Ogiso was Iwodo whose “amazon” wife
Esagho tried to get her stepson and heir to the throne,  the 14-year-old
Ekaladerhan, killed on wrong accusation of infanticidal witchcraft is unknown,
and unknowable,  or whether she is really one of two female Ogisos (out of a
total of 31), is purely my speculation!

My point is that the Bini to many of these people are like what the English are
to say Wales,
Scotland and (Northern) Ireland.  Outside the UK or Great Britain, “British” or
“English” are virtually the same, to the unknowing or to the careless or
carefree.  For example, many of the British colonialists were Welsh and
Scotsmen, but who cared?  They were all “Oyibo” to many a Yoruba, although “Geesi”
became “English” as the Yoruba got wiser to their antics. But call a “Welsh”
person “English”, and watch out: he might just punch you out!

EPILOGUE

In all my cyberspace contributions on this interesting saga – which predate this
latest Ooni/OmoN”Oba royal spat by about a month-and-a-half -  I have borne in
mind my own proud triple heritage as an Ekiti-Yoruba (on my father’s side, from
Ode), Western Ijaw (on my mother’s father’s side; from Ikoro) and an Owan-Edo
(from my mother’s mother’s side; from Arokho), not to talk about a strong
Itsekiri cultural influence.  My maternal grandfather’s mother was Itsekiri and
his first two wives were Itsekiri before he married my Owan grandmother, so the
Itsekiri culture is strong, almost overwhelming in my mother’s family.  My first
four years in life were spent at Ekpoma (Ishan-land), ward of my grandmother
while my parents went abroad to seek the “golden fleece”.  So I spoke Esan
before I could speak a single word of Yoruba.  

Consequently, my abiding
principle has always been simple: any cultural people can make all kinds of
INTERNAL CLAIMS that they want, however fantastic, including their progenitor
climbing down a chain from Heaven (as the Yoruba claim Oduduwa to have done). 
However, they must be VERY CAREFUL to be sensitive when such claims cross their
own cultural borders and intersect the history of others, else they degenerate
into claims of superiority or inferiority, which are the first bus stop to
hatred and wars, which we really cannot afford.

For example, I cannot prove or disprove whether Oduduwa and Ekaladerhan are the
same person or not. But for the Bini, particularly a high person like the Omo
N’Oba, to make such an assertion without being able to prove it – and to make it
so positively – is to invite major angst, which will not go away very soon.

We should all remain vigilant, and confront with class and civility any attempts
at cultural hegemony and revanchist internal re-colonization.  All of these have
some bearings on what it really means to be at the same time both a local
indigene AND a national citizen of Nigeria with inalienable rights.  It is
the lack of resolution of these knotty issues that has had some disastrous
consequences in Ife-Modakeke, Aguleri-Umuleri, Warri (among the Urhobos, the
Itsekiris and the Ijaws), in Ogoni-land, in Zaki-Biam as well as in
Yelwa-Shendam, just to name a few ethnic hotspots in Nigeria. 

By the way, in closing, I am not a monarchist, and would not miss a moment of
sleep if the Obas and Emirs and Obi/Ezes etc. all walked away from their thrones
and shed their bejeweled crowns.  But that should be the democratic choice of
their “subjects” who currently tolerate them, not mass regicide by decree.

Best wishes always, and farewell to these particular arms.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlukoArchives/message/297

The Benin-Ife Connection
- Oba Erediauwa
April 29, 2005

2/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlukoArchives/message/292

Ooni Faults Omo N’Oba’s
Claim on Oduduwa

3/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlukoArchives/message/311

How the Oba of Benin
Goofed – by the Ooni of Ife
May 2, 2004

4/

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/AlukoArchives/message/316

“You Can’t Just Wake Up
and Say Oduduwa was a Benin Prince ” – Prof. J. F. Ade Ajayi
May 16, 2004

5/

http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/Addresses_Lectures/Ogiso-Oba.htm

“Ogiso Times and Eweka
Times: A Prelim History of Edoid Complex of Cultures (I)”
By Peter Ekeh  [Fourth Chief Jacob U. Egharevba Memorial Lecture, under the
auspices
of the Institute for Benin Studies, 14 December, 2001]

6/

http://www.edofolks.com/html/pub74.htm

The “Ile-Ibinu” Question
by Nowa Omoigui

7/

http://www.waado.org/Organizations/UHS/Debates/Edowa/Omoruyi_EDOWA.htm

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